To Charles Lyell [1 August 1861]1
2. Hesketh Crescent. Torquay
My dear Lyell
Emma has gone a little tour with Etty,2 but I have forwarded Lady Lyell’s letter with the sad account of Mrs. Longfellow.—3 I am sorry to have troubled you, but shd. be much obliged for Dutch Translat. to be left at Q. Anne St.—4 I am surprised at a Dutch Translation—5
I declare that you read the Reviews on the Origin more carefully than I do.— I agree with all your remarks.— The point of correlation struck me as well put, & on varieties growing together; but I have already begun to put things in train for information on this latter head, on which Bronn also enlarges.—6
With respect to Sexuality, I have often speculated on it, & have always concluded that we are too ignorant to speculate— no physiologist can conjecture why the two elements go to form the new being; & more than that why nature strives at uniting the two elements from two individuals; what I am now working at, viz Orchids, is admirable illustration of the law.— I shd. certainly conclude that all Sexuality had descened from one prototype.7 Do you not underrate the degree of lowness of organization at which sexuality occurs, viz in Hydra: & still lower in some of the one-celled free Confervæ which “conjugate”, which good judges (Thwaites) believe is simplest form of true sexual generation.8 But the whole case is a mystery.—
There is another point on which I have occasionally wished to say a few words.— I believe you think with Asa Gray that I have not allowed enough for the stream of variation having been guided by a Higher power.—9 I have had lately a good deal of correspondence on this head.10 Herschel in his Phy. Geograph. has sentence with respect to the Origin something to the effect that the higher law of providential arrangement shd. always be stated.11 But astronomers do not state that God directs the course of each comet & planet.— The view that each variation has been providentially arranged seems to me to make natural selection entirely superfluous, & indeed takes whole case of appearance of new species out of the range of science. But what makes me most object to Asa Gray’s view, is the study of the extreme variability of domestic animals.— He who does not suppose that each variation in the Pigeon was providentially caused, by accumulating which variations man made a Fantail, cannot, I think, logically argue that the tail of the Woodpecker was formed by variations providentially ordained.— It seems to me that variations in the domestic & wild conditions are due to unknown causes & are without purpose & in so far accidental; & that they become purposeful only when they are selected by man for his pleasure, or by what we call natural selection in the struggle for life & under changing conditions. I do not wish to say that God did not foresee everything which would ensue; but here comes very nearly the same sort of wretched embroglio as between free-will & preordained necessity.
I doubt whether I have made what I think clear; but certainly A. Gray’s notion of the course of variation having been led, like a stream of water by Gravity, seems to me to smash the whole affair. It reminds me of a Spaniard whom I told I was trying to make out how the Cordillera were formed; & he answered me that it was useless for “God made them”. It may be said that God foresaw how they would be made. I wonder whether Herschel would say that you ought always to give the higher providential Law, & declare that God had ordered all certain changes of level that certain mountains should arise.— I must think that such views of Asa Gray & Herschel merely show that the subject in their minds is in Comte’s theological stage of science.—12
I have one other very distinct subject. William will, I apprehend, now certainly join Mr. Atherley’s Bank, & it would be of real importance to him to get any good introduction in or near Southampton:13 can you aid me? it would be a real service.—
Of course I do not want any answer to my quasi theological discussion: but only for you to think of my notions, if you understand them.
I hope to Heaven your long & great labours on your new Edit. are drawing to a close.14
Farewell | My dear Lyell | Yours most truly | C. Darwin
Very kind remembrances to all your party.—15
Mentions Dutch translation [of Origin].
Discusses evolutionary origin of sexuality.
Asa Gray’s suggestion that variation was directed by a higher power and Herschel’s view of providential arrangement in nature.
Compares variation in domestic and wild species.
Asks CL for introductions for his son William in Southampton, where he has joined a bank.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3223,” accessed on 3 December 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-3223